In 1348, when the Black Death came to the city, half of the city's population, 90,000, was wiped out. Obviously this led to a fall of the economy and threw one of Europe's greatest cities into turbulent times. But let us not forget that every cloud has a silver lining. This unsteady time lent it self nicely to a rise of the business class in power. Because there were only a few strong businessmen that had escaped the Black Plague and the crash of the economy in any sort of salvageable way, an oligarchy began to form. Rising to the top of this new government was a family of bankers called the Medici's. They also had of strong family tradition of love for the arts. Not only were they passionate about the arts but they were all informed and enlightened about what they supported.
This panel, together with that made by Filippo Brunelleschi, both depicting the sacrifice of Isaac, have great artistic and historical importance. They are the famous trial pieces presented in a competition for the right to construct the door of the Baptistry . The combination of factors -- the history of the building, the Arte del Calimala's patronage, the fame of Andrea Pisano's doors-- made this an extremely desirable commission. The competitors were expected to submit panels representing the Old Testament story of the Abraham's Sacrifice of Isaac. It depicts the moment when Abraham, ordered by God to sacrifice his only son, is about to plunge the knife into Isaac's neck, but his hand is stayed at the last moment by an angel. This story of divine deliverance would undoubtedly have resonated with Florentines, whose city had been delivered by the sudden death in a recent battle. Both Brunelleschi and Ghiberti entered their own different interpretations of the subject, which were considered equally good, however it was the latter, whose work was still partly Gothic in style and therefore easier to understand, who actually won and was given the commission. The two panels they presented for the competition are now exhibited beside each other in the Museum of the Bargello. Filippo Brunelleschi Lorenzo Ghiberti 1401-1402 Florence Baptistery Doors Competition entries
The contract for the execution of the work was signed on November 23rd 1403 but the doors were to take Ghiberti and his workshop twenty years to complete: they were finally hung in the east entrance in 1424, replacing the doors by Andrea Pisano. The contract of the artist (who in the meantime also worked on other works of art), stipulated that he produce at least three panels a year, for which he would receive 200 florins in exchange (making a total of 4.000), while he was also allowed to employ collaborators, providing he personally carried out the trees and the faces of the figures, including their hair. Great artists of the future like Donatello and Paolo Uccello were among his pupils. The structure of the door is very much like the earlier one: 28 panels surrounded by the usual "polylobate" Gothic frame which was, in its turn, placed inside a square decorated with plant motifs. The only variation was that the lions' heads were substituted by those of the Prophets. 20 panels illustrate scenes from the life of Christ, while the remaining 8 contain the Evangelists and the Fathers of the Church. Several details hint at the the coming of the Renaissance, especially the approach to some of them (the Dispute of Christ with the Doctors of the Church), and show the trend towards a freer naturalism; the model that was followed however was still based on Andrea Pisano's Gothic style.
One of the greatest sculptural programmes in the early Quattrocento was the exterior decoration of the Orsanmichele (a former grain market which had become an oratory below and a meeting hall for the market above), a building which joined civic and religious functions. In the Trecento each guild had been assigned the task of filling one niche with a freestanding statue of its patron saint. Only a few guilds complied, forcing the city council in 1406 to set a ten-year deadline for these obligations, which precipitated a spate of commissions. Nanni sculpted the group called Quattro Santi Coronati for his own guild, the Arte dei Maestri di Pietra and Legname (Guild of the Stone and Woodcutters). The life-size figures arranged in a semi-circle represent Claudius, Castor, Symphorian and Nicostratus, four Christian sculptors who refused to execute a statue of Aesculapius for the Emperor Diocletian; they were confused with Christian soldiers and were martyred for not venerating the Emperor . These figures confirm that Nanni was heavily influenced by Roman sculpture. Like actors in togas they brought antiquity to life. The figure on the right, who gestures to his companions and addresses them, introduces a narrative element, while they evince a unity of emotion. Their volumetric forms impressed other artist, especially Masaccio. In Masaccio's Tribute Money (Brancacci Chapel) St John is based on Nanni's gesturing figure, including his corkscrew curl. Nanni di Banco Quattro Santi Coronati (Four Crowned Saints) 1408-13 Marble, Orsanmichele, Florence
Donatello St Mark 1411 Marble, height 236 cm Orsanmichele, Florence The statue was commissioned by the Arte del Linaioli (Guild of Linen Merchants) for the Church of Orsanmichele. It was placed in a tabernacle in the outer wall of the church. Recently it was removed from its original place for restoration and placed in a museum. The solidity of the statue reflects classical rules. The weight of the figure rests on the right leg, and the left knee is slightly bent to maintain balance. This return to contrapposto is a major turn into the “renaissance.” Where it is not caught by the arm, the mantle falls to the ground in heavy folds. We get a sense that this man is a draped nude….not a column with incised drapery.
Donatello St George c. 1416 Marble, height 214 cm Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence For the Armourers' Guild Donatello made a very spirited figure of St George in armor, expressing in the head of this saint the beauty of youth, courage and valor in arms, and a terrible ardor. Life itself seems to be stirring vigorously within the stone "(Vasari). The youthful period of Donatello is typified by his St George. This statue, executed around 1416, was placed in a niche on the north wall of Orsanmichele. The tensed expression of the young face shows its affinity with the ideal of David in the Bargello. The cloak gathered over the chest in a tight knot falls in folds whose spiral line retains an echo of the Gothic world, as does the position of the statue in its niche. But the problem of space has been overcome, and the St George, turning on the axis of the shield, moves with a great visionary force. On St George's face may be read the tension of the soldier alerted to imminent danger. The type of young Christian warrior is perhaps taken from Byzantine representations, but the head is principally inspired by Hellenistic models. It is marked, however, with the pent-up energy characteristic of all Donatello's works.
Donatello Prophet Habakkuk/Zuccone 1427-36 Marble, height: 196 cm Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Florence The Zuccone is the nickname of this prophet due to his bald head; it literally means "pumpkinhead". What makes this statue stand out is his intensity. In the Renaissance age, when everyone was looking to the classics for inspiration, Donatello struck out on his own for this work. Gone are the plethora of sculptures depicting prophets as wise old men with beards who preach the word of god. His bald head, open mouth, his muscled body and disheveled manner; this is a man who's got God speaking to him inside his head.
Donatello David c. 1430 Bronze, height: 185 cm Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence This life-size bronze sculpture stands in a contrapposto stance. His musculature is that of a young boy, probably around the age of thirteen or so. The hat he wears out of place even for a shepherd boy from Italy in the 15th century. David stands atop the bearded and helmeted head of Goliath who he has just vanquished. According to Janson, "this is the first life sized free standing sculpture since antiquity." The figures size and pose are almost direct references to the classical tradition of casting idealized athletic figures in bronze with the lost wax process as evinced by Spearbearer and Riace Bronzes (although they would not have been familiar with the bronzes since they were discovered in the 1970's). In this way, Donatello would have combined the Bible story of David and Goliath with the classical and humanistic concepts. In effect, he was uniting both a theological and eoplatonic/humanistic point of view. The iconography also points towards a political point of view. The Italian city states were constantly at war with each other. For example, Florence thought of themselves as the "David" to Rome's Goliath. In this case, David is standing atop Goliath's head who sports a helmet. According to Janson's Art History, the "elaborate helmet of Goliath with visor and wings, (is) a unique and implausible feature that can only refer to the dukes of Milan, who had threatened Florence." For Janson, the hat David sports is then a reference to peace.
Lorenzo Ghiberti Eastern Door of the Baptistry 1425-52 Bronze Baptistry, Florence This is the masterpiece of Ghiberti, who worked on it for 27 years, lavishing on it all the richness of his imagination, combined with a fine sense of composition and profound knowledge of the modeler's art. Michelangelo defined the door as fit to be the "gate of Paradise". The door, a universally admired masterpiece, has ten panels depicting Biblical scenes. At the center of the door at left is the self-portrait of Ghiberti. The door's original gilding has recently been recovered from beneath the patina formed over the centuries. It was badly damaged by Florence's flood in 1966 when the waters of the Arno reached a height of more than 180 cm. After restoration it was moved to the museum of the Cathedral and substituted by a copy.
This was set up in front of the church in a space then used as a cemetery. Both horse and rider were a complete unit destined to become the prototype of many subsequent equestrian monuments. Vasari wrote about the statue: "Donatello proved himself such a master in the proportions and excellence of this huge cast that he challenges comparison with any of the ancient craftsmen in expressing movement, in design, skill, diligence, and proportion. The work astounded everyone who saw it then and it continues to astound anyone who sees it today. " (Vasari). In 1443, Donatello left Florence for northern Italy to accept an important commission from the Republic of Venice to create a commemorative monument in honor of the recently deceased Venetian condottiere Erasmo da Narni, nicknamed Gattamelata, or “honeyed cat.”. The people who commissioned the monument asked Donatello to portray Gattamelata on horseback in a statue. Donatello Equestrian Statue of Gattamelata 1447-50 Bronze, 340 x 390 cm Piazza del Santo, Padua His purpose was to make this stature more powerful and lifelike than any other equestrian he had seen before. The height of the pedestal alone is twenty-five and a half feet, which is twice as high as the statue it holds . Donatello created an idealized portrait of Gattamelata and his horse to reveal the man’s nobility. He used the concept of antiquity as he noted in the statue of Marcus Aurelius during his visit to Rome.
Donatello St Mary Magdalene c. 1457 Wood, height: 188 cm Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Florence The wooden Mary Magdalene seems so remote from The Renaissance ideals that we are tempted to liken back to the Gothic devotional images (like the Bonn Pieta). But then remembering the intensity of the Zuccone, the ravaged features of Mary gives us insight to the religious experiences of the former prostitute. Donatello seems deliberately to "jar the sensibilities; he give us the ugly, the painful, and the violent." His figures are wonderfully human and fearfully intense. Mary Magdalene is aging, emaciated, clad in rags, and infinitely noble.. Donatello transmutes the themes of his age into an understanding of the human lot that serves any age
Brunelleschi's most important achievement in mathematics came around 1415 when he rediscovered the principles of linear perspective using mirrors. He understood that there should be a single vanishing point to which all parallel lines in a plane, other than the plane of the canvas, converge. Also important was his understanding of scale, and he correctly computed the relation between the actual length of an object and its length in the picture depending on its distance behind the plane of the canvas. Using these mathematical principles, he drew various scenes of Florence with correct perspective. These perspective drawings by Brunelleschi have since been lost. Basic characteristics: Revival of the dome A harmony of all parts with symmetry and order of geometric proportions and designs using Classical architectural elements. Common to practically all examples is the use of the classic columns for perpendicular sup-port and of horizontal lines above. The columns are, however, more widely spaced than in the classic, and between and behind them are either arches with smaller columns or posts supporting them independently of the main columns. Window and door openings with molded frames and pointed or round gables adopted from the classic pediment. Round windows or tondo motifs. Architecture In constructing churches, Renaissance architects no longer used the shape of a cross as a basis for their structures. Instead, they based them on the circle. Believing that ancient mathematicians equated circles with geometric perfection, architects used the circle to represent the perfection of God. In constructing their homes, wealthy people of the Renaissance often adopted a Roman style, building the four sides of their homes around a courtyard. Simple, symmetrical decorations--imitations of classical ones--were applied to the façades of buildings, and some structures also featured columns reminiscent of ancient temples. From The Western Tradition series.
Brunelleschi Dome of the Cathedral 1420-36 Duomo, Florence In 1418, when construction of the Florence Cathedral's apse had been almost completed, a competition was announced for the erection of the dome; it was won, among criticism and some confusion, by Filippo Brunelleschi. He erected his revolutionary structure between 1420 and 1436, first adding to the beauty of the church's proportions by constructing a tambour 15 m high at the base of the ovoid-shaped dome, which was designed in such a way as to avoid the need for reinforcement or scaffolding. The dome has double walls: between the inside wall and the roof outside are the stairs by which one ascends to the lantern at the top. The dome is 113 m high including the lantern and has a diameter of 44 m.
Brunelleschi Façade of Ospedale degli Innocenti 1419-24 Florence The first expression of Brunelleschi's own architectural principles was the Foundling Hospital (Ospedale degli Innocenti) built between 1419 and 1424 in Florence. This, which was the first hospital for foundling children in the world was built at the expense of Brunelleschi's own Guild, that of the Silk Merchants and Goldsmiths. From the point of view of architecture the important part of this building is the outside loggia, since the hospital itself was completed by Brunelleschi's followers when he himself, in 1425, was far too busy with the dome of the Cathedral to attend to anything else. In the Ospedale degli Innocenti, Brunelleschi introduced a motif that was widely imitated during the Renaissance—a series of arches supported on columns. The loggia consists of a series of round arches, with a horizontal element above them, and a vault, consisting of small domes carried on the columns of the loggia and on corbels on the surface of the hospital wall. Brunelleschi was the father of Renaissance architecture and the most prominent architect in Italy, during his lifetime.
within it the Pazzi family were permitted to bury their dead. The enamel terracottas surrounding the dome are by Luca della Robbia. The plan of the chapel is again the circle and the square. A rectangular base is crowned with a conical central dome supported by fine "veiled" vaulting that one also finds in the porch. Brunelleschi used mathematical modules and geometric formulas for the plan and elevation of the Pazzi Chapel, and he arranged the space in a more complex and sophisticated manner. The minor spatial compartment, opening off a third side of the main square, is a corresponding square apse covered by a dome and containing the altar . The spaces are divided up with a geometric lucidity; the white intonaco (plaster) of the walls is in the cool contrast to the pilasters in grey "serene" stone called pietra serena , and the beautiful decorations in glazed terracotta which adorn the interior are by Luca della Robbia
Brunelleschi built two large basilicas in Florence, both completed after his death but showing the development of his style in his later years, and both of them became patterns of the Latin cross type of plan. The earlier of the two is S. Lorenzo, the parish church of the Medici family. This was begun in 1419, when a plan was drawn up for rebuilding a much older church on the site. Many chapels were necessary since it was a monastic foundation, and Brunelleschi therefore adapted the type which had been established in the last years of the thirteenth century at Santa Croce.
Palazzo Medici, view Architect: Michelozzo di Bartolomeo Location: Florence, Italy Date: 1445 Palace for Medici family has a rusticated exterior wall, monumental cornice which defines the mathematical proportions, and a horizontally symmetrical façade. Rustication: in architecture, type of decorative masonry achieved by cutting back the edges of stones to a plane surface while leaving the central portion of the face either rough or projecting markedly. Rustication provides a rich and bold surface for exterior masonry walls. Note that the stone becomes smoother as you move upwards creating lift until the roof line where the cornice stops the movement abruptly. This new palace was begun around 1444 and represented the real arrival of the Renaissance palace type in Florence with each floor clearly delineated and a huge cornice crowning the roofline. Cosimo and Lorenzo de' Medici had lived here, but the palace was abandoned by Grand Duke Cosimo I in 1540 when he and his wife moved to Palazzo Vecchio as part of his new vision of Medici power. According to Vasari, Brunelleschi built a model for the palace , but, Cosimo refused the project "more to escape envy than expense". He didn’t the people to be jealous of a too lavish house.
Gentile da Fabriano Adoration of the Magi 1423 Tempera on wood, 300 x 282 cm Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence Palla di Noferi Strozzi commissioned this famous altarpiece, signed and dated 1423 on the frame, for his family's chapel in the church of Santa Trinita in Florence. Wealth and culture of the donor are reflected in the lavish use of gold and in the pomp of the Magi procession, including also exotic animals as leopards and monkeys. If in this picture clearly emerges the persistence of International Gothic at the beginning of 15th Century, in the meanwhile the panel is ahead of its time showing in the predella's scenes Nativity, Rest during the Flight into Egypt and Presentation to the Temple) one of the basic innovations of Renaissance art: the blue sky at the place of the traditional gold background Gentile da Fabriano's painting is not a geometrically constructed composition. It should be read as if it were the text of a tale, beginning at the top left corner, where the three Magi, meeting at the seaside, notice the star they have to follow. If we follow their course among sloping hills and cultivated fields we can see how they march into Jerusalem under the frame of the central arch, while in the lunette on the right we can see them departing. In the middle distance the direction of their journey changes, proceeding towards us and suddenly the mass of people appears from a deep ravine flanked up by a precipitous rock and a fence. Now we can discern the faces too, and observe the smallest details of garments, arms and harness. Then the crowd, which can pride itself on hunters, noble chargers and exotic animals too, stops at the right-hand corner of the foreground, having reached its destination. Only here does the youngest King's page remove his master's spurs; having sunk to one knee the second King is on the point of handing over his gift, whereas the oldest, who has already presented his, is kneeling and kissing the Infant Jesus' foot. The elegant handmaids of the Virgin are taking delight in the lovely sight.
From 1424, he worked with his older colleague Masolino on the decoration of the Brancacci Chapel, which was dedicated to St. Peter. Masaccio, applying the laws of perspective, achieved a considerable optical illusion of depth in the painting of architectural constructions and landscapes. The illustration of his new method is The Holy Trinity with the Virgin, St. John and Two Donors (1426-28) in Santa Maria Novella in Florence. Here for the first time three-dimensional effect is achieved on a two-dimensional plane. Masaccio probably completed this fresco at the age of 27, in the year when (as far as we know) he died. Who ordered this fresco and why is unclear. In other pictures of the Trinity, God the Father is shown enthroned; save for Masaccio's this is the only known example in which He stands . Masaccio was also able to portray figures out of doors so convincingly that they appear to blur as they move away from us. Linear perspective reproduces the effect of forms growing smaller in the distance. With his new aerial perspective Masaccio pointed out that they also grow dimmer and out of focus. Some art historians believe that he launched the new style of Early Renaissance practically single-handedly, he was only 21 years old at the time and he died 6 years later, leaving to others to develop his discoveries. Masaccio maw-SAW-chee-oh The Holy Trinity with the Virgin, St. John, and Two Donors 1425, Fresco The most likely interpretation of the Trinity is that the painting alludes to the traditional medieval double chapel of Golgotha, with Adam's tomb in the lower part (the skeleton) and the Crucifixion in the upper part. But it can also assume the significance of the journey the human spirit must undertake to reach salvation, rising from the earthly life (the corruptible body) through prayer (the two petitioners) and the intercession of the Virgin and saints (John the Evangelist) to the Trinity.
Masaccio Tribute Money’ 1425, fresco The episode depicts the arrival in Capernaum of Jesus and the Apostles, based on the account given in Matthew's Gospel. Masaccio has included the three different moments of the story in the same scene: the tax collector's request, with Jesus's immediate response indicating to Peter how to find the money necessary, is illustrated in the center; Peter catching the fish in Lake Genezaret and extracting the coin is shown to the left; and, to the right, Peter hands the tribute money to the tax collector in front of his house. This episode, stressing the legitimacy of the tax collector's request, has been interpreted as a reference to the lively controversy in Florence at the time on the proposed tax reform; the controversy was finally settled in 1427 with the institution of an official tax register, which allowed a much fairer system of taxation in the city. There are other references and allusions which have been pointed out by scholars. The characters are entirely classical: dressed in the Greek fashion, with tunics tied at the waist and cloaks wrapped over their left shoulder, around the back, and clasped at the front, below their left forearm. And even Peter's stance, as he extracts the coin from the fish's mouth, with his right leg bent and his left one outstretched, is reminiscent of postures of many statues by Greek artists. Further development of bodily form through modeling Play of light across the figures creating shadows Light source is more definitely indicated Greater sense of depth due to the shadows Figures are in front of a landscape rather than confined on stage. Liked to use linear perspective and takes the first step toward
Masaccio The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden 1426-27 Fresco, 208 x 88 cm Cappella Brancacci, Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence Masaccio's concrete and dramatic portrayal of the figures, his truly innovative Renaissance spirit, stand in striking contrast to Masolino's late Gothic scene, lacking in psychological depth. In Masaccio's painting man, although a sinner, has not lost his dignity: he appears neither debased nor degraded, and the beauty of his body is a blend of classical archetypes and innovative forms of expression. His influential frescoes are often called the "first paintings of the Renaissance" because of their naturalism and use of perspective. Masaccio died before he ever finished his work at this chapel. With this painting, Masaccio established himself as an artist supremely capable of lifelike representations of human movement. He managed to use the small space he was allotted for this painting to the best advantage. Practically eliminating all landscape and architecture (the gates to Eden are expressed in the stone arch to the far left of the painting), Masaccio suggests forward movement in the anguished forms of Adam and Eve and, even more explicitly, in the foreshortened angel surging ahead, banishing the couple from paradise. The Lord's voice, making the final declaration of expulsion, is suggested by the black lines emanating from the gates.
The three paintings of the Battle of San Romano are universally attributed to Paolo Uccello. The three scenes are: Niccolò da Tolentino Leads the Florentine Troops, London, National Gallery; Bernardino della Ciarda Thrown Off His Horse, Florence, Uffizi; Micheletto da Cotignola Engages in Battle, Paris, Louvre. In all three the battle scene is interpreted in terms of a chaotic melee of horsemen, lances and horses in a desperate struggle, portrayed through an endless series of superimposed and intersecting perspective planes.The movement which should animate the scenes appears to be frozen, as it were, by the isolation of the individual details, all realistically portrayed. See, for instance, the elaborate heavy armor, the leather saddles, the gilded studs, the horses' shiny coats, and of course the splendid "mazzocchi', the huge multifaceted headgear that Uccello often included in his pictures due to the specific difficulty of painting it in proper perspective. Paulo Ucello Battle of San Romano 1450s Tempera on wood, 182 x 320 cm National Gallery, London
This panel painting - one of his most famous - was executed by Piero during his first visit to Urbino. It contains subtle references to the situation of the time, which are very difficult to understand today. The theory that seems to be proposed most frequently is that the painting was commissioned as an attempt to favor the reconciliation between the two Christian churches, of the East and of the West, in view of the imminent Turkish attack on Constantinople. Both the presence of the character in the center, dressed after Greek fashion, and an inscription on the frame ("convenerunt in unum") would seem to support this interpretation. From the point of view of composition and perspective the painting is very rigorously planned. The composition appears to be divided into two scenes, separated by the column supporting the temple in which the Flagellation of Christ is taking place. On the right are three figures, arranged in a semi-circle; their identity is not certain. They are probably well-known characters of the time and, as such, they would be portrayed with their real features. The importance of the architecture in this painting, with the elegant classical temple, would suggest that Piero was in touch with contemporary theoretical writings. The onlooker must stand directly in the center of the painting, for the composition is strictly unitarian, and this unity is achieved by the rigorous use of a single vanishing point. The painting is an ultimate example of Quattrocento linear perspective. Piero della Fracesca The F lagellation c. 1455 Oil and tempera on panel, 58.4 x 81.5 cm Galleria Nazionale delle Marche, Urbino
La Resurrezione , 1463-65 Museo Civico, Sansepolcro
One of Piero's greatest masterpieces, painted for his native city, probably just before his journey to Rome in 1458. This exemplifies Piero's ability to use archaic iconographic elements, belonging to the repertory of popular sacred images, yet placing them in an entirely new cultural and stylistic context. Within a framework, formed at the sides by two fake marble columns, the composition is divided into two separate perspective zones. The lower area, where the artist has placed the sleeping guards, has a very low vanishing point. Alberti, in his theoretical writings, suggests that the vanishing point should be at the same level as the figures' eyes. By placing it on a lower level, Piero foreshortens his figures, thus making them more imposing in their monumental solidity. Above the figures of the sleeping sentries, Piero has placed the watchful Christ, no longer seen from below, but perfectly frontally. The resurrected Christ, portrayed with solid peasant features, is nonetheless a perfect representative of Piero's human ideal: concrete, restrained and hieratic as well. The splendid landscape also belongs to the repertory of popular sacred images: Piero has symbolically depicted it as half still immersed in the barrenness of winter, and half already brought back to life - resurrected - by springtime. Resurrection 1463-65 Mural in fresco and tempera, 225 x 200 cm Pinacoteca Comunale, Sansepolcro
Fra Angelico Annunciation 1433-34 Tempera on wood, 150 x 180 cm Museo Diocesano, Cortona This altarpiece, called Cortona Altarpiece (to be distinguished from the Cortona Triptych) and consisting of the Annunciation and six small predella pictures, was executed for the church San Domenico at Cortona, and in later centuries, probably during the French occupation, was transferred to the church Gesu, presently the Museo diocesano. Fra Angelico was a Dominican friar in the monastery at Fiesole. The convent of San Marco was taken over by his Order in 1436, and he was commissioned to decorate the friar's cells with frescoes painted directly on to wet plaster walls. These were intended to stimulate prayer and meditation rather than to be a factual record of the Biblical story. He wanted to represent the sacredness of Christ in all its glory and simplicity; although he understood the principles of perspective. Under the arches between the Corinthian columns are the slender figures of the Madonna and of the angel in devout converse, regulated with the rhythm of gentle curves; in the background, on the left, the celestial fields with Tuscan cypresses; Gabriel's wings stretch out like a rainbow. It is the theme of the tabernacles which multiply themselves at the crossing of the ways; the greeting taken from the mediaeval hymnology and the invitation addressed to the passer-by and writings under the painting show Angelico's most cultivated devotion: Salve, Mater pietatis / et totius Trinitatis / nobile triclinium / Maria! The lighting of the scene is curiously illogical, the interior of the arcaded loggia is evenly illuminated, despite the fairly strong light coming from the left.
The young king, who is looking towards the old king on the opposite wall, was thought to be a portrait of Lorenzo de' Medici. However, it is not probable since at the time the work was created, he was just ten years old. Rather, in these features Gozzoli is repeating a portrait formula which he also uses in other places, especially the angels' heads. Furthermore it would be unusual to portray a member of the Medici family in so prominent a position. Benozzo was aware that such portraits belonged at the edge, not in the center of the composition. The portraits of the Medicis can, therefore, be found at the front of the young king's retinue. At the head of the group, behind king, rides Piero de' Medici (1416-1469), who commissioned the frescoes. Benozzo has also immortalized himself in the densely crowded retinue in close proximity to the "familiari". We know this from the inscription of his name on the red cap. In recent research the two youths in front of Benozzo have been identified as Lorenzo and Giuliano Medici. By having themselves depicted in the procession of the Three Kings, the Medicis were demonstrating both their political and their financial power. They had themselves depicted at the end of the procession, as part of the youngest king's retinue, and not as part of the retinue of the oldest king, who is nearest their goal. The sequence of pictures begins with the youngest king. On the horizon his retinue is moving down from the mountains. At the highest point is a small medieval fortress, possibly Jerusalem, where the Three Kings first went. However, the architecture of the complex is reminiscent of the Medici villa in Cafaggiolo, which Cosimo de' Medici commissioned Michelozzo to build in 1451 in the style of a medieval castle. Procession of the Magi in the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi in Florence (1459-60) Benozzo Gozzoli
Fra Filipo Lippi Madonna with the Child and two Angels 1465 Tempera on wood, 95 x 62 cm Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence This extremely well-known and even popular work has always been considered as one of the highest and most lyrical expressions of Lippi's art. It is certainly a late composition, a distinct foretaste of themes that would be developed by Botticelli, Pollaiolo and Leonardo: the tension and incisiveness of the line, the typology of the faces and the tender melancholy expressed by the persons portrayed. It has been said that this work represents not a mother with her child, but rather abstract figures absorbed in a vaster contemplation of private thoughts and feelings. The element of design is so greatly emphasized in this painting that it seems almost the artist's only means of expression. His color creates a soft light, and the play of light and shade, plus the transparency of the veils, creates the illusion of movement rather than of substance. In the context of this soft light, the suggestion of modeling in the face of the Madonna seems hardly more than a tremor. The delicate profile of the Virgin Mary, seated by the window, is outlined clearly against the rocky landscape, while two angels hold up the Christ Child, who reaches toward his praying mother. The angel in the foreground turns with an odd smile toward the spectator. Emphasis on this world… not a remote world.
Madonna and Child Fra Filippo Lippi, 1406-1469
Palazzo Rucellai Leon Battista Alberti c. 1452-1470 Alberti designed a rational "skin" for this palace--a type of "screen" architecture in which the classical elements provide no support structure. All three stories are of equal height with flat pilasters supporting a classical entablature. Imitating in part the Colosseum, the capitals vary from Tuscan (bottom story), to Alberti's own invention (acanthus leaves with a center palmette), to Corinthian on the top story. He was one of the major figures of the Renaissance, an elaborator of mathematical perspective and theoretician of art. He wrote "Descriptio Urbis Romae", the first systematic study on the reconstruction of the Roman city. Inspired by the art of antiquity, he elaborated the theory of beauty being harmony, that it can be expressed mathematically in every way and that the "proportions" of the Roman buildings contain the basis of architectural design. This harmonic vision is to be found in all his work. Inside the arch of the windows are the family crests of the noble Rucellai family: rings with diamonds and feathers. The building's perspectives are made by the geometric lines of the upper floors. On the lines that divided the levels of the building rest the beautiful mullioned windows, on some of which the stone noble family crests are set. The geometry that sets the facade apart is that which closes the mullioned windows in between pillars topped with ornate classical capitals.
Alberti was a master of placing facades on existing buildings. His ability to pair a new facade with and older structure shows his practicality--a characteristic that convinced the Rucellai family to continue to employ Alberti. Santa Maria Novella (Rucellai family parish) is probably his most recognizable facade due to its color, shape, and eclectic collection of styles including Tuscan Romanesque, Romanesque-antique, and Classical elements. In addition, he added volutes to frame the second story thus uniting the narrow top with the lower story, the width of which was determined by the side aisles. This solution was widely copied in Renaissance and Baroque architecture. It is the Ruccellai family who commissioned Leon Battista alberti to design a new facade for the church. The family name is inscribed in large Roman capital letters across the facade, and the family seal, the sail of the fortune, is also visible. The six tombs and three doorways in the lower section and large, round windows in the upper portion were incorporated into alberti's new design. At Santa Maria Novella, the height of the facade is equal to its width, so the entire facade can be inscribed in a square. The upper portion can be continued in a square one-fourth that of the entire facade. The lower section of the facade forms a rectangle. The length of the rectangle is twice its height. All of these areas can be related in terms of mathematical proportions. According to Alberi, these numerical ratios indicate harmonic relationships, which are the foundation of beauty. Alberti's design has various geometrical relationships; for example, the height to the top of the pediment is equal to the width and the upper temple with its pediment is one-fourth the size of the main square.
Desiderio da Settignano , 1428–64, Florentine sculptor, a follower of Donatello. His marble carving, of exquisite delicacy, is best seen in his church decorations and in his busts of women and children. This bust of an infant, without any attributes to identify him as a religious figure, may have been created as a portrait of an actual child. Carved of pure white marble, it presents its young subject with a solemn but relaxed expression. The eyes, with uncarved irises and pupils, possess a timeless, classical character, while the slight asymmetry and skillful handling of the marble create a sense of life and movement. The deeply cut mouth falls open. Soft wisps of hair fall loosely over the ears and forehead. The sensitive carving of the stone to convey the resilience of young flesh and the silky texture of a child's hair is characteristic of Desiderio's best work
Luca della Robbia Madonna and Child 1464-65 Glazes terracotta, diameter 180 cm Orsanmichele, Florence Luca dell Robbia is now remembered mainly for his development of colored, glazed terracotta as a sculptural medium — in particular for his highly popular invention of the type of the half-length Madonna and Child in white on a blue ground. The family workshop seems to have kept the technical formula a secret and it became the basis of a flourishing business; among the major works by Luca in the medium are the roundels of Apostles (c. 1444) in Brunelleschi's Pazzi Chapel in Santa Croce. Luca's business was carried on by his nephew Andrea (1435-1525), and later by Andrea's five sons, of whom Giovanni (1469-after 1529) was the most important. The famous roundels of infants on the façade of the Foundling Hospital in Florence (1463-66) were probably made by Andrea. His successors tended to sentimentalize Luca's warm humanity, and in course of time the artists' studio became a potters' workshop-industry. Enameled terra cotta, for which he perfected a special glazing made of tin, antimony, and other substances. (Blue color becomes a trademark.)
This statue was commissioned by the Medici family and it was sold by them in 1476 to the Signoria, the ruling body of Florence, and placed in the Palazzo Vecchio, thus gaining a republican meaning similar to Donatello's David. Here the similarity ends. There is no doubt that Verrocchio's proud hero was capable of slaying the giant. The explicitness and angularity contrast with the ambiguity and sensuousness of Donatello's - nude and vulnerable while Verrocchio's is elegantly clothed. He carries a small sword in one hand and, with his other confidently poised on his hip, looks triumphantly out at the viewer. The figure, to be viewed in the round, lacks the anatomical exaggerations and the psychological implications or complexity of Donatello's. It is, rather, perfectly chased and was meant to be appreciated for its exquisite patina. Andre del Verrochio The Young David 1473-75 Bronze, height: 125 cm Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence
Verrochio Equestrian Statue of Colleoni 1480s Gilded bronze, height: 395 cm (without base) Campo di Santi Giovanni e Paolo, Venice In 1479 the Venetian authorities had decided to erect a monument to the mercenary Bartolomeo Colleoni of Bergamo who had died in 1475, leaving funds for an equestrian in his honour. He naively stipulated that it be sited in Piazza S. Marco, too prominent a place for this potentially dangerous symbol of power. Instead the authorities decided cleverly to put it before the remote Scuola di S. Marco. A competition was held and Verrocchio sent a life-size wax model of the horse in 1483. It was unfinished at his death in 1488, although he had completed the figure and horse in clay. In his will, he enjoined his pupil Lorenzo di Credi to finish it, but this responsibility was transferred in 1490 to the Venetian bronze caster Alessandro Leopardi (who designed the base and signed on the horse's girth).
Verrocchio s monument of Colleoni scarcely differs from older equestrian monuments which cities commissioned during the 15th century to honor the outstanding services rendered by their condottiere, such as Donatello's Gattamelata in Padua. Both depictions have a more or less similar position of rider and horse, derived from the most famous equestrian monument of the age, the classical Roman equestrian monument of Marcus Aurelius. The most obvious difference between these images of brute power resides in the torsion of Verrocchio's, Donatello's being confined to a plane. Colleoni stands erect in his stirrups to regard his enemy in violent contrapposto, while his horse turns and raises one hoof without support. (Verrocchio's is technically more advanced.) His war machine, embodying belligerent force, is dressed in contemporary armor, whereas Gattamelata wears pseudo-antique armor. Donatello's image is calm, abstract, dignified and universal; Verrocchio's is specific, vigorous and dynamically active. The grimly determined visage with its furrowed brow, staring eyes and intense expression may have influenced the 'terribilità' of Michelangelo's David.
Antonio Pollaiuolo Hercules and Anteus 1470s Bronze, height: 45 cm Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence Pollaiuolo's background as goldsmith equipped him to respond to the taste for small bronzes in the last third of the 15th century. The statuettes, frequently patinated to resemble antique bronzes, were meant for connoisseurs. The Hercules and Anteus demonstrate Pollaiuolo's knowledge of anatomy (from dissecting corpses) and his ability to represent physical and emotional violence. The group was famous in the artist's own lifetime: Leonardo studied it and Michelangelo included a sketch of it on a sheet illustrating bronze casting. It is one of the earliest appearances of a mythological subject in the round. The unusual poses of the protagonists correspond to those painted by Pollaiuolo on a panel in the Uffizi, which is related to a larger lost painting for the Medici Palace.
Pollaiuolo Battle of Ten Nudes 1470s Engraving, 428 x 618 mm Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence The purpose and meaning of this engraving, prominently inscribed with the artist's name, is open for interpretation. It represents ten male nudes seen from different views, and was possibly used by artists in the workshop as a means of figure study. The composition may also be seen as a series of five one-to-one confrontations, in the manner of the Hercules and Antaeus. The figures, disposed in a variety of poses and movements, in foreshortening and in profile, show a carefully rendered internal structure, with muscles given emphasis (too much for Leonardo, who wrote that such figures appeared like "a sack of walnuts"). The meaning of the print, other than a battle, has yet to be explained, but it served as a pattern for other artists.
The Birth of Venus c. 1485 Tempera on canvas, 172.5 x 278.5 cm Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence The title of the Birth of Venus can be traced back to the 16th century. What is depicted is not, however, the moment of the goddess' birth - the classical poet Hesiod describes her as rising from the foaming sea. Venus is being driven towards the shore on a shell by Zephyr; and how an onlooker would have seen the flash in the goddess' eye and the Horae of the seasons standing on the shore in white garments, their flowing hair caressed by the wind. The god of the winds, Zephyr, and the breeze Aura are in a tight embrace, and are gently driving Venus towards the shore with their breath. She is standing naked on a golden shining shell, which reaches the shore floating on rippling waves. There, a Hora of Spring is approaching on the tips of her toes, in a graceful dancing motion, spreading out a magnificent cloak for her. Venus rises with her marble-colored carnations above the ocean next to her, like a statue. Her hair, which is playfully fluttering around her face in the wind, is given a particularly fine sheen by the use of fine golden strokes. The unapproachable gaze under the heavy lids gives the goddess an air of cool distance. The rose is supposed to have flowered for the first time when Venus was born. For that reason, gentle rose-colored flowers are blowing around Zephyr and Aura in the wind. The goddess of love, one of the first non-biblical female nudes in Italian art, is depicted in accordance with the classical Venus pudicaor “modest venus.”. She is, however, as little a precise copy of her prototype as the painting is an exact illustration of Poliziano's poetry. It is uncertain who commissioned the painting. In the first half of the 16th century, it was kept in the Castello villa, owned by the descendants of Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de' Medici. However, it was never mentioned in inventories of his property. It is, though, extremely likely that the Birth of Venus was commissioned for a country seat. In contrast to the Primavera, the painting is painted on canvas. This was a medium normally chosen for paintings that were destined to decorate country houses, for canvas was less expensive and easier to transport than wooden panels.
In 1550, Vasari wrote that a picture which according to him announced the arrival of spring was in the Medici villa in Castello. In 1477, the estate was acquired by Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de' Medici, who was a second cousin of Lorenzo the Magnificent. This is why it was long assumed that the Primavera (Spring), as the painting continues to be called, was painted for the fourteen year old Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco when the villa was bought. Such large format paintings were nothing new in high-ranking private residences. The Primavera is, however, special in that it is one of the first surviving paintings from the post-classical period which depicts classical gods almost naked and life-size. Some of the figures are based on ancient sculptures. These are, however, not direct copies but are translated into Botticelli's own unconventional formal language: slender figures whose bodies at times seem slightly too long. Above all it is the women's domed stomachs that demonstrate the contemporary ideal of beauty. Venus is standing in the centre of the picture, set slightly back from the other figures. Above her, Cupid is aiming one of his arrows of love at the Three Graces, who are elegantly dancing a roundel. The garden of the goddess of love is guarded by Mercury on the left. Mercury, who is lightly clad in a red cloak covered with flames, is wearing a helmet and carrying a sword, clearly characterizing him as the guardian of the garden. The messenger of the gods is also identified by means of his winged shoes and the caduceus staff which he used to drive two snakes apart and make peace; Botticelli has depicted the snakes as winged dragons. From the right, Zephyr, the god of the winds, is forcefully pushing his way in, in pursuit of the nymph Chloris. Next to her walks Flora, the goddess of spring, who is scattering flowers. Various interpretations of the scene exist. Leaving aside the suppositions there remains the profoundly humanistic nature of the painting, a reflection of contemporary cultural influences and an expression of many contemporary texts. One source for this scene is Ovid's Fasti, a poetic calendar describing Roman festivals.. In his philosophical didactic poem, De Rerum Nature the classical writer Lucretius celebrated both goddesses in a single spring scene. As the passage also contains other figures in Botticelli's group, it is probably one of the main sources for the painting: "Spring-time and Venus come,/ And Venus' boy, the winged harbinger, steps on before,/ And hard on Zephyr's foot-prints Mother Flora,/ Sprinkling the ways before them, filleth all/ With colours and with odours excellent."
Lucas Signorelli The Damned 1499-1502 Fresco Chapel of San Brizio, Duomo, Orvieto Viewed all together the huge frescoes in the Orvieto chapel give an impression of overcrowding and of confusion which is far from pleasing. We have to isolate the individual details in order to grasp the greatness of Signorelli the 'illustrator' and the 'inventor' and therefore justify Berenson's statement. Signorelli's fresco cycle in Orvieto is full of humor, grotesque inventions, erotic allusions and ribald jokes. There is no need to refer to the profane spirit of the Renaissance to explain this. On the contrary, these scenes fit in very well with the idea of the Cathedral as theatrum mundi , as the mirror image of the whole universe, and they are fully in the spirit of the religious plays of the time. Basically, neither Signorelli nor his patrons wanted to do without the enjoyment provided by story-telling, a typically Italian style based on humorous and imaginative details. But this in no way invalidates the dogmatic truth of the prophecies relating to the end of the world, which, especially in those turbulent years, really came across as a terrifying threat. It becomes quite understandable that Michelangelo would have been really interested in these Orvieto frescoes. But he in no way imitated Luca's work , (as Vasari would have us believe), for the spirituality and the moral content of the Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel have absolutely nothing in common with the theatrical representation in Orvieto. Michelangelo perhaps found in Signorelli's frescoes a useful iconographical repertory, a catalogue of surprising and unusual inventions. The account of the Apocalypse continues with three large scenes, the Resurrection of the Flesh, the Damned and the Elect, and two smaller ones on either side of the chapel's window, Paradise and Hell
Pietro Perugino Christ Handing the Keys to St. Peter 1481-82 Fresco, 335 x 550 cm Cappella Sistina, Vatican The main figures are organized in a frieze in two tightly compressed rows close to the surface of the picture and well below the horizon. The principal group, showing Christ handing the gold and silver keys to the kneeling St Peter, is surrounded by the other Apostles, including Judas (fifth figure to the left of Christ), all with halos, together with portraits of contemporaries, including one said to be a self-portrait (fifth from the right edge). The flat, open piazza is divided by colored stones into large foreshortened rectangles, although they are not used in defining the spatial organization. Nor is the relationship between the figures and the felicitous invention of the porticoed Temple of Salomon that dominates the picture effectively resolved. The triumphal arches at the extremities appear as superfluous antiquarian references, suitable for a Roman audience. Scattered in the middle distance are two secondary scenes from the life of Christ, including the Tribute Money on the left. The poses of the figures fall into a small number of basic attitudes that are consistently repeated, usually in reverse from one side to the other, signifying the use of the same cartoon. They are graceful and elegant figures who tend to stand firmly on the earth. Their heads are smallish in proportion to the rest of their bodies, and their features are delicately distilled with considerable attention to minor detail. The sense of an infinite world that stretches across the horizon is stronger than in almost any other work of his contemporaries, and the feathery trees against the cloud-filled sky with the bluish hills in the distance represent a solution that later painters would find instructive, especially Raphael. Likely in charge of the entire project of the fresco decoration on the walls of the Sistine Chapel, Pietro Perugino retained for himself not only representations on the altar wall (which eventually were replaced by Michelangelo's Last Judgment) but also other significant scenes, such as Christ Handing the Keys to St. Peter, a most fitting subject for Pope Sixtus' chapel.
Andrea Mantegna The Lamentation over the Dead Christ c. 1490 Tempera on canvas, 68 x 81 cm Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan In a letter written on October 2, 1506 to the Duke of Mantua, Ludovico Mantegna mentioned a "Christ in foreshortening" among the works left by his father. It probably dates to the 1570's. In that case it must have remained in Mantegna's studio for a long time, and may have been intended for his funeral. In fact it was shown at the head of his catafalque when he died. Subsequently it was acquired by Cardinal Sigismondo Gonzaga, and it entered the Brera in 1824. It is typical of Mantegna's art that the simple window-like framing of the confined space in this painting architecturally defines it as the cold and dismal cell of a morgue. Looking in we see an almost monstrous spectacle: a heavy corpse, seemingly swollen by the exaggerated foreshortening. At the front are two enormous feet with holes in them; on the left, some tear-stained, staring masks. But another look dissipates the initial shock, and a rational system can be discerned under the subdued light. The face of Christ, like the other faces, is seamed by wrinkles, which harmonize with the watery satin of the pinkish pillow, the pale granulations of the marble slab and the veined onyx of the ointment jar. The damp folds of the shroud emphasize the folds in the tight skin, which is like torn parchment around the dry wounds. All these lines are echoed in the wild waves of the hair.
Mantegna moved to Mantua where he worked the rest of his life as the "family artist" of the wealthy Ludovico Gonzaga. There he did some of his greatest works including the spectacular Camera degli Sposi (wedding chamber). The walls and ceiling of this small, windowless room he painted to look like an open-air pavilion. The ceiling is a fool-the-eye masterpiece made to resemble a dome which is open to a painted sky. The opening features a balustrade with pretty putti, picturesque planters and pilasters, all perched precariously around the pretentious perimeter. (There wasn't much money couldn't buy back then.) In this one room it's not hard to see whom Michelangelo, Raphael, even the great Leonardo himself most admired as a painter. Mategna Ceiling Oculus 1471-74 Fresco, diameter: 270 cm Camera degli Sposi, Ducal Palace, Mantua
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